Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review of Plantinga

My review of Alvin Plantinga’s recent book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism appears in the latest (December) issue of First Things.  Also in the issue are articles by John Haldane on Thomas Nagel and Thomas Aquinas, Stephen Barr on chance and design, and lots of other interesting stuff.


  1. Man, this looks like a real great issue.

  2. Hi Prof. Feser,

    THis is a bit random but could I get your thoughts on this short article that attacks the Cosmological Argument? I know in the past you've pointed out how many have engaged in strawman attacks on the Cosmological Argument - what are your thoughts on the arguments presented in this particular article?::



  3. THis is a bit random but could I get your thoughts on this short article that attacks the Cosmological Argument? I know in the past you've pointed out how many have engaged in strawman attacks on the Cosmological Argument - what are your thoughts on the arguments presented in this particular article?::

    I won't speak for Ed, but I will say that there are varieties of cosmological arguments - and I don't recall Ed ever doing much work with Principle of Sufficient Reason arguments.

  4. Crude,

    Well yes, I don't rmb him doing so either, but I put this here because Mr. Feser has expressed irritation at how certain Atheist philosophers attempt to reduce the Cosmological Argument into basic principles, and in the process completely misrepresenting the general thrust of the Cosmological Argument as a set up for a strawman attack.

    The reducing of Cosmological Argument into simpler basic principles seems to be the strategy taken here in the article, where the authors claim that the central plank of most Cosmological Arguments typically follow from the Principle of Sufficient Reason, hence it suffices to defeat the Cosmological Argument by attacking the aforementioned Principle and/or variants thereof. I was just curious as to how Mr. Feser would view this particular treatment of the Cosmological Argument, whether it was a fair criticism or whether they've missed the boat.

  5. Quire,

    Do you have the whole paper? I wasn't able to look through it because it requires a subscription. Thus, for non-subscribers, it would be hard to deduce if the refutation could count as a strawman or not. But from the first page, it doesn’t seem to attack ALL Cosmological Arguments, rather just one made by Gale and Pruss. Though if you want an explanation/response to the argument in the paper, perhaps you can also check out Alexander Pruss' blog, and maybe post there. He also has a book on the PSR.

    There's also a section on the Gale-Pruss argument on the SEP. Here’s a small sample.

    "Gale and Pruss (2002) subsequently concede that their weak PSR does entail the strong PSR, but they contend that there still is no reason not to proceed with the weak PSR, which they think the nontheist would accept. The only grounds for rejecting it, they claim, is that it leads to a theistic conclusion, which is not an independent reason for rejecting it. Oppy, however, maintains that there is a modus tollens reason to reject it, since there are other grounds for thinking that theism is false."

    Reichenbach, Bruce, "Cosmological Argument", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = .

    It seems like the original argument tried to prove God’s existence with a “Weak-PSR,” because the regular “Strong-PSR” is rejected by nontheists for a few reasons, including the fact that it strongly implies the existence of a Necessary Being. Gale and Pruss were hoping that the W-PSR would be more palatable to nontheists, and attempt to show that you can still get to God even with a W-PSR. It seems to me that the paper you have attempts to refute just the W-PSR argument.

  6. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for the links - certainly helps me understand the debate better! As for the problem of viewing the article, I can download the paper into a pdf format but I'm not sure how to get it to you?

    In any case, I'm not quite sure about your answer (i.e. that Davey & co. are only attacking a very specific formulation of Cosmological Argument) - I think one has to address their arguments on 2 main levels.

    a) That the central plank of most Cosmological Arguments can be adequately reduced to the Weak Principle of Sufficient Reason.

    b) That their analysis/rebuttal of the Principle is problematic.

    But yes, I do realize you can't really adequately answer these points given the fact that you can't read the article and look at their analysis haha

  7. Will this be online eventually?

  8. The never ending drama of the rationalist/creationist debate is usually presented as if it were a confrontation between ideas, but the would-be ideas on both sides, are always of a fixed, and pre-determind, and oddly mechanical ,and merely mutually contradictory nature. With all such events and efforts being entirely predictable, pre-decided, and always theatrically dramatized programs of propagandistic hyper-statement, wherein the individuals, insitutions and traditions, on both sides, remain insular, aggressively self-protected, and monotonously self-preserved.

    All such arguments are in every fundamental and effective sense, primitive power efforts. Such debates have only one purpose which is to protect and preserve the independent political, social, economic, and cultural spheres of primitively exercised public institutional power. In the case of the "catholic" church the purpose is obviously to extend its obnoxious even totalitarian claim on all of humankind.

    The creationist/rationalist debate is a public theatre of institutional power games, which pretend to be Truth's own arena of ideas, but which, in fact, is a grossly dramatized theatre of primitive and irreconcilable confrontation between fixed modes of brain and nervous system patterned structures of ego based psycho-physical adaptation.

    None of the fixed ideas of both sides are any more rational, true, or closer to Reality and Truth than the fixed ideas of the opposing other.

    The pre-verbally brain-and-nervous-system-patterned fixed ideas of creationists and religionists in general, are direct extensions of childish and even infantile dependency patterning.

    The pre-verbally brain-and-nervous-system-patterned fixed ideas of rationalists and advocates of scientism in general, are direct extensions of adolescent independence patterning.

    In due course, the power of religion to console the infantile and childish ego must be outgrown. Likewise,he power of the uninspected worldly realism of scientism to fascinate and retard the clever adolescent ego must be outgrown too.